Isabel dos Santos loses to Angola in an $850 million dispute

By Estelle Maussion
Posted on Thursday, 16 July 2020 17:21

Isabel dos Santos speaks to journalists before being sworn in as chief executive of state oil firm Sonangol in Luanda
Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of former Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda, Angola, June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Ed Cropley

The arm wrestling between Isabel dos Santos and President Lourenço, which has been going on for several months, has finally seen a victory. According to a decision – of which Jeune Afrique had access to – the arbitration tribunal in Paris has ruled in favour of the Angolan state in a dispute between it and the company Atlantic Ventures, partly owned by the daughter of former president José Eduardo dos Santos, over the controversial award of a port concession north of the capital Luanda, in Barra do Dande.

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In the 66-page document, dated 10 July, the arbitration tribunal declares itself incompetent to decide the dispute, thereby agreeing with the position defended by the Angolan authorities.

The Angolan authorities explain that, despite the discussions between the two parties on the concession, no contract or clause on the settlement of a possible dispute has been signed, making it impossible to exercise arbitration justice, an argument validated by the tribunal.

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It also orders Atlantic Ventures to pay 132.8 million kwanzas (approximately $228,000) to the Angolan authorities, corresponding to the reimbursement of costs incurred in the proceedings.

Excerpt from the decision of the Paris arbitration tribunal on 10 July 2020 © Jeune Afrique

A decision that “gives reason to the Angolan State”

Atlantic Ventures, in which Isabel dos Santos is a shareholder, wanted the dispute to be settled by an arbitration body and claimed $850m in compensation after President Lourenço, who came to power in 2017, cancelled the concession granted by José Eduardo dos Santos.

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President Lourenço, in a 13 July communiqué, welcomed the decision, which “gives reason to the Angolan state”, stressing that it was “taken unanimously and is not subject to any further appeal”.

Shortly afterwards, Atlantic Ventures reacted via the Portuguese public relations agency LPM Comunicação, which also handles Isabel dos Santos’ communications. Challenging the Angolan authorities’ reading of the decision, Atlantic Ventures refused to talk about a “defeat”.

Second setback on this case

While the arbitration tribunal did not rule on the merits of the case, namely the validity of the withdrawal of the port concession for a $1.5bn project, its decision to declare itself incompetent bars the way to Atlantic Ventures’ willingness to settle the dispute outside the Angolan courts.

This setback comes after an initial one. In June 2018, the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC Paris), which had been seized by Atlantic Ventures, also declared itself incompetent to settle the dispute. It was this refusal that led to the opening of a request for ad hoc arbitration through the Paris arbitration tribunal.

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The awarding of the Barra do Dande port concession to Atlantic Ventures, decided by a presidential decree signed by José Eduardo dos Santos a few days before leaving power in September 2017, triggered strong criticism in the country, fuelling recurrent suspicions of nepotism and bad governance. The decree in question was annulled by another presidential decree, this one signed by João Lourenço in 2018.

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